Cover image for Declutter The Sidebar

Declutter The Sidebar

pp profile image Paweł Ludwiczak ・2 min read

Have you ever clicked anything in the right sidebar on home page? I did it once or twice probably. It just doesn't seem very useful.

And yes - I do care about some tags that are there. But not all of them. But still - I have to intentionally scan this section to find something relevant to me. And it's a loooong section.

Right now it's mainly a wall of links to posts. When you're on the home page and you scroll through your feed then you probably simply don't focus on anything else. You skip the right sidebar. And not necessarily because you're in different mental model right now. It's your mind subconsciously ignoring it because there's too much going on.

So here's an idea...

Posts Widgets

I'd like to propose an idea to let users define what's in the right sidebar, in particular the widgets with posts links. Give users the power to set tags they want to see there. And let users decide how many posts should be displayed as well.

Posts Widgets

Users would be able to add multiple widgets, not only one. And one widget could be a one tag or combination of many.


I think we could also utilize this section to propose potentially interesting content - something that users haven't followed yet, but we the algorithm thinks they would like.


So the idea is to have a widget that would suggest a user and/or tag to follow. One at a time.

Algorithm could potentially take into consideration factors like:

  • other things that the user follows
  • popularity of specific content
  • personal preferences (if user once decided to skip "frontend" tag, maybe we shouldn't suggest following "html" or "css"

Feedback? Thoughts? Ideas? Concerns?

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Paweł Ludwiczak


I move pixels around.


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Should the Forem maintainer be able to enforce certain widgets? For instance when Dev is having an event such as She Coded or the Actions Hackathon the first item in right sidebar is to show the event off and help people join in.

But I could imagine it being used for more than just an event ad.


Yes, definitely. The sidebar will be customizable only in some part. Obviously, Admin should be able to turn certain things on or off and position them appropriately.


Yup, I think this is the big question....

Also, I feel like this is an area which is ripe for possible "plugins"... Like, as DEV, we could have a plugin where people could choose to enable a stream of their Travis Builds, so whenever they are on DEV they could watch these go through.... Or on forem.dev we could have a sidebar where we display a stream of all the pull requests getting merged/closed etc.

Of course, this plugin system is much easier said than done, but I'd want us to make choices which empowered this future as much as possible.

Yea! Imagine plugins marketplace within Admin side of the Forem, and one of that marketplace category is "Sidebar widgets" where you, as an admin, can turn on/off certain widgets. Admin should be able to decide where exactly each widget should be displayed in the sidebar.

Would the idea be to have a market place similar to the WordPress plugins where admins can add (or perhaps even purchase) plugins for their forem?


We've not wanted to jump into this because of technical debt of making some bad choices, but this is where we want to be.

At some point we need to rip the bandaid off and ween in to our plugin ecosystem. (If "plugin" is what we're calling it). @joshpuetz had an astute point in a prior discussion about the best way to get this started is to extract existing functionality into a plugin.

My biggest concern is just ensuring performance, security and UX stay strong while the system is extensible.... Wordpress, Shopify, etc. haven't always checked all these boxes all the time.


Personally, I think this design makes sense more than the existing one. I almost never look at the sidebar and if at all I do, I check out only the listings or the water cooler tag.

I would love to be able to pick my choice of widgets because then I would take notice of the sidebar and it would become a useful section of the page. The idea of being able to choose multiple tags for one widget is also cool!


This is great - thank you for sharing!

I'm excited by the prospect of introducing a widget that people can customize. Your idea mentions that the end-user would be the one customizing the widget, and I wonder how much that would comprise mostly of power users. It made me think: what if the audience for this was not only for the end-user, but for the community creators? What if they want to use this to curate and design the presentation of their community?

Another thought I was: how do people learn to set up these customizable widgets for the first time? Is this something we prompt them to after they've successfully onboarded? Does this whole thing have its own in-product education? Or is that too much?


These are great points and questions.

what if the audience for this was not only for the end-user, but for the community creators? What if they want to use this to curate and design the presentation of their community?

I think that's definitely the goal here. So imagine this: as an admin, you would be able to "create" the default sidebar that will be visible to logged out users AND people who just don't want to customize anything. You define what widgets you wanna see in the sidebar AND in what order. And these could be anything from "ad widgets", "listings", "posts widgets", "explore" and/or... well.. sky is the limit..

Now as a user, you will, by default, see what Admin wanted you to see. Unless you customize the sidebar for yourself. Regular user customization should be much more limited in my opinion than what admin can do.. I think regular user should be only able to customize "posts widgets" (and only theirs order) - but that's obviously something to verify with more research.

how do people learn to set up these customizable widgets for the first time?

We still don't have ideal patterns for educating users about certain features AND for after_signup onboarding. Many websites do this kind of tooltips wizard (step by step) highlighting and explaining certain UI elements on the page when you first log in. But I guess there are many different approaches to handle that. Although, another thing to remember is to judge what matters most for users - we don't want to overwhelm new user with tons of guides, tooltips and messages when they first log in. And the truth is - I think "customizable sidebar" isn't the most crucial feature that should be introduced for new users. But definitely something we would like to educate user about after some time.